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Did You Know? Saint Bernadette (Feast Day: April 16)
The second episode in an ongoing series of brief videos filled with interesting details regarding the lives and miracles of well-known and lesser-known saints, and the devotions and traditions that have developed around them over time.
Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who was born in Lourdes, France on January 7, 1844, almost lived in a padded cell and did live in a jail cell…That’s right! Due to hard times for the Subirous family, Bernadette spent her youth in a single-room basement-level home that formerly housed prisoners, known as “the dungeon”. And the padded cell? Well, that was nearly the result of her fascinating story.
From February 11 to July 16, 1858, 14 year-old Bernadette experienced 18 visions of “a beautiful Lady” in a local grotto and by the time of her final apparition, as many as 20,000 people had traveled to witness the events. During one vision, the Lady asked Bernadette to drink from a spring in the ground, only there was no spring. So, a confused Bernadette used her bare hands to dig up the ground before finally splashing some damp mud to her mouth.
This prompted many locals, who could not see the Lady, to claim Bernadette had gone insane, but within days, a powerful spring began to flow from the muddy hole and reports of miraculous healings soon followed. Further vindicating the visions, the Lady revealed her name to Bernadette as “The Immaculate Conception”: an 1854 dogma defined by Pope Pius IX, and a phrase that Bernadette had never even heard before.
To escape her newfound and undesired fame, 22-year old Bernadette left Lourdes to join the Sisters of Charity convent in Nevers, but upon her arrival, even the mistress of novices complained: “If the Blessed Virgin wanted to appear on Earth, why would she choose a coarse and uneducated peasant, rather than a learned and virtuous religious?”
Bernadette spent the rest of her life there, working primarily as an infirmary assistant. But after years of difficult health issues, including asthma, Bernadette died from tuberculosis in 1879 at only 35 years old. Amazingly, Bernadette then joined a small group of saints, known as The Incorruptibles, whose bodies have refused to decompose after death.
St. Bernadette’s visions in Lourdes have inspired dozens of books, and four major motion pictures…including 1943′s Oscar-winning film, Song of Bernadette.
Today, in France, only Paris has more hotels than Lourdes, and more than 5 million pilgrims seeking healing and renewed faith visit the small town every year…To-date, 67 people have experienced cures that the Lourdes Medical Bureau has classified as inexplicable. But, St. Bernadette herself said that only faith and prayer can cure, which is probably why she was named the patron saint of the sick.
Bernadette was beatified in 1925, then canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933…and while the Vatican declared the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes “worthy of belief”, Bernadette’s canonization was not founded on the visions, but rather on the holiness she exhibited in her life.
…and that’s how a shy, young French girl became the saint we know today.